The fourth volume collecting the adventures of Roman Dirge’s demented li’l dead girl Lenore Lynchfast, Lenore: Swirlies (Titan Books), continues the cartoonist’s agreeably twisted mesh of family unfriendly kids’ comics, Tim Burton-y Gothicism and ADHD storytelling. (As Edward Gorey was to Victorian children’s cautionaries, Dirge is to fifties era Harvey Comics.) Reprinting the last four issues of his sporadically published comic book, the book follows our heroine as she reigns chaos on a child’s birthday party, thwarts the vengeful schemes of the mortician whose life was ruined the day our girl revived on his table, breaks the heart of a button-eyed stalker named Mr. Gosh, and plants her faithful companion, the vampire doll Ragamuffin, in the soil resulting in a bumper crop of tiny yipping Ragamuffins.
Goofily ghoulish and grisly—with at least one good moment that will get the reader wondering “Should I even be reading this?” (for me, it comes early in the kiddies’ birthday party)—Swirlies keeps its comic eye on both the innocence and casual cruelty of the very young. In one tale, for instance, our heroine pushes aside the obsessed Mr. Gosh by listing all the things she’d rather do than be loved by him (among the items, “be a female in The Hills Have Eyes), then immediately does an about-face when she learns that he lives in a cupcake castle. We know the button-eyed creep’s heart will ultimately be crushed, though, and of course it comically is.
Dirge’s pen and brushwork remains grotesquely expressive—suited to a heroine who goes through un-life happily oblivious to the sound of lice eating her head. One of the book’s highlights proves to be a three-page wordless sequence where Lenore and her companion efficiently dispatch a quartet of mini-Ragamuffins. It’s the kind of sequence that you can imagine the old Warner Bros. cartoon unit depicting—if they’d been allowed to do shorts featuring living dead kids . . .